April 29, 2003
People In China Evade Government Quarantine Efforts

A widespread lack of trust in their government is causing many Chinese people who suspect they are sick to avoid contact with doctors and hospitals.

"The government has said the people are panicking because they don't understand SARS, but that's wrong," said Kang, the social scientist. "They are panicking because they don't know who to rely on. The migrant workers in Beijing are afraid that if they are quarantined they won't get treated, just left there to get sick and die. Their flight is actually a rational response."

The previous report is more important than the fact that the WHO reports that SARS is declining in many of its major sites of infection.

BEIJING -As the World Health Organization announced that SARS had peaked and is declining in Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada, Chinese officials continue to withhold information crucial to combating the spread of the deadly virus, the U.N. agency's chief representative in Beijing charged Monday.

While some stock markets are rallying in reaction to WHO statements that SARS has peaked in many locations and a lot of people are breathing sighs of relief that perhaps the worst is behind us these optimistic reactions seem premature. SARS is being controlled in highly industrialized countries and also in Vietnam. But it is spreading deeper into China and there are worrying signs that it is getting a hold in India. With a 10th SARS case reported India has been reporting at least one SARS case a day for the last 4 to 5 days.

Medical experts warned that health authorities needed to do more to tackle the disease as SARS had entered the "local transmission" phase in which Indians who had returned to the country carrying the virus were now infecting fellow citizens.

If SARS becomes well established in rural India and rural China then there is no way it is going to be eradicated in the foreseeable future. There will then be a continuing risk that it will spread to still other less developed countries. An increasing portion of the world will come to be seen as made up of high risk destinations to visit. This will cut economic growth in those areas and in the world as a whole.

Individual Westerners who do not travel to regions which have SARS infection are going to continue to be at very low risk of getting the disease. In any locale where SARS shows up in the West the Western governments will conduct fairly aggressive programs to hospitalize sufferers and quarantine those who have been exposed (my guess is that other Western governments are learnng from Toronto to move quickly). The skilled personnel, supplies, and infrastructure are available to stop a local outbreak from getting out of control. Realistically a typical Westerner or resident of other industrialized countries such as Japan will be at greater risk of death from a car accident.

However, the economic impact of SARS is going to be great for the West in part because risk avoidance behaviors in the infected regions and among those who might otherwise travel to the infected regions will be so great. China is going to shut down its stock markets for at least a week. The economic effects of SARS are extending far beyond the infected countries and the global economy is slowing.

There are two big unknowns at this point:

  • Will SARS become established in poor countries outside of China?
  • How quickly and cheaply can the world economy essentially restructure itself to minimize the economic impact of SARS?

Obviously, the answer to the first question greatly affects the size of the needed economic restructuring. But there are already many signs that computer and communications technologies are being used to reduce the economic impact of SARS. For instance, home banking use is surging in Hong Kong. Also, Video conferencing is enjoying a boom. Teleconferencing, telecommuting, email, mail order shopping, and other means of reducing one's exposure to other people are all helping to reduce the impact of SARS on the world economy.

On the bright side SARS is very mild in children and children who have SARS appear to be much less infectious than adults.

The researchers discovered the two distinct patterns of disease. The five teenage patients had symptoms similar to SARS in adults - muscle pains, malaise, chill and rigour. However, the younger children had mainly coughs and runny noses with no muscle pains or chills.

Update: A measure of the economic impact of SARS on Beijing.

And there is another more ironic proof of the seriousness of the situation It is dusk here right now, and it is a clear, blue, glorious evening. The quality of this sky you do not see except when someone is in town that the government wants to impress, such as the International Olympic Committee, and the government shuts down the main thoroughfares and any industry that is going to pollute.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 April 29 02:23 PM  Dangers Natural Bio

nikkie said at November 8, 2003 11:20 PM:

oh shucks. those people who got this killer pneumonia really are pitiful..and instead of china getting catchy to people, they turn out to be the worst one.

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